Perpetuating a Stereotype


I recently complained about how the AP religion writer Rachel Zoll presented a distorted image of the views of people of faith in the United States by equating "believers" with the Religious Right and making no mention of the diversity of thought that exists among religious people. Media Matters has now published a study that documents the way that this skewed and inaccurate depiction is generally propagated by the news media. Some of the findings of the study are summarized as follows:

Religion is often depicted in the news media as a politically divisive force, with two sides roughly paralleling the broader political divide: On one side are cultural conservatives who ground their political values in religious beliefs; and on the other side are secular liberals, who have opted out of debates that center on religion-based values. The truth, however is far different: close to 90 percent of Americans today self-identify as religious, while only 22 percent belong to traditionalist sects. Yet in the cultural war depicted by news media as existing across religious lines, centrist and progressive voices are marginalized or absent altogether....

* Combining newspapers and television, conservative religious leaders were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed in news stories 2.8 times as often as were progressive religious leaders.

* On television news -- the three major television networks, the three major cable news channels, and PBS -- conservative religious leaders were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed almost 3.8 times as often as progressive leaders.

* In major newspapers, conservative religious leaders were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed 2.7 times as often as progressive leaders.
The study also points out that
in the news media it is overwhelmingly conservative leaders who are presented as the voice of religion. This represents a particularly meaningful distortion since progressive religious leaders tend to focus on different issues and offer an entirely different perspective than their conservative counterparts.


Sandy Carlson said...

Great post. I'm glad you left a comment on Writing in Faith that brought me here. The religious right in this country has made the word Christian shorthand for intolerant, self-righteous bigot. Now I see how that worked.

Eileen said...

People who see things in black and white make for a much better news story than people who are willing to be reasonable.

Reasonable people are not sensational enought to make the news.

Hence, I think, the lack of news stories about progressive religious leaders.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

I think one of the reasons why the Right gets quoted is that they offer simple and of course absolutist answers. The media finds it difficult to deal with ambiguity. It's the same reason why Sam Harris wants to focus his attention on the Right -- it's an easier target. To have to deal with Tillich, Niebuhr, Borg, Crossan, Brueggemann, Moltmann, etc requires too much energy.

It's not fair, but I think its understandable. And, unfortunately I don't think it's an easily rectifiable problem! Unless, we decide that progressives should become simplistic and absolutist -- and as for me -- no way!